Marrying a foreigner and living in their country — as both my brother and I have done (we’re English but I live in Switzerland and my brother in the States) — can be a challenge: not just to fit in but to work out when to contribute by not exactly fitting in. My own experience leaves me doubly impressed by my old friend Rob Corcoran, a Scot and a white man, who married an American and went to live in Richmond, the former capital of the Southern states. When they arrived there, they moved into a mixed race neighbourhood, and quickly a couple of African-American neighbours became good friends. As an outsider perhaps my friend was better placed to see old problems with fresh eyes.
Out of their experience grew a programme called Hope in the Cities. Rob has now written a book about the experience: Trustbuilding: An Honest Conversation on Race, Reconciliation, and Responsibility published by the University of Virginia Press. It is in part a history of a trust-building and reconciliation work that started in Richmond, but has now reached out to individuals and communities in many other parts of the world. But the book is also a helpful text book, a ‘how to build trust’ handbook. Simple questions (such as ‘Who is not taking part in the conversation?’) challenge the would-be do-gooder. Do I only interact with those who already think like me? Corcoran quotes African-Americans who are meeting whites in an ‘honest conversation’ for the first time; and Republicans who have never really talked in deeper interaction over several hours with a Democrat.
One fascinating practical realization that Corcoran and his friends helped with is The American Civil War Center in Richmond, ‘the nation’s first museum to interpret the Civil War from Union, Confederate, and African American perspectives.’ I look forward to visiting it the next time I’m in the USA. I want to dream about an Israeli-Palestinian museum that tells the history of that troubled part of the world from different perspectives.